Celestial satnav - St Bride's: Reflection

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Celestial satnav

Acts 2: 1-21

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1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,

10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,

11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:

15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.

16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;

17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:

20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:

21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

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The garage where I used to take my car for its annual service closed about eighteen months ago so I have had to find another place to take my vehicle for its MOT.  Which is why, last Wednesday, I took my life in my hands, and set off to drive through what was for me completely uncharted territory, in the very depths of darkest Wimbledon.

Now, before I proceed any further with this story, I should explain that I have a rather complex relationship with satnav.  This is largely my own fault, because I am very negligent, and never get round to updating it - so, there have been occasions in the past when it has, quite innocently, directed me down what has become a restricted road (one such incident cost me a £60 fine last year); and these days, if ever I go anywhere near Elephant and Castle, where the entire road network has been re-configured, I have to unplug it or Mrs Satnav goes into complete meltdown, declaring in the least panic-stricken voice that she can manage: 'You are going the wrong way.  Turn round!' 

In other words, although I have a lot of confidence in satnav, and am often utterly dependent upon it, I must confess that, where my own satnav is concerned, occasionally I have Doubts.

This was particularly the case on Wednesday morning, because when I inputted the postcode for my previously unknown Wimbledon garage, my satnav came up with the wrong address - it was a completely different road.  But when I put in the correct postal address, it came up with an incorrect postcode - a postcode that was in fact in another postal district.  This did not inspire me with confidence.

I had taken the precaution of checking out the route on Google maps the night before, and was pretty clear of the most sensible and direct route to take, so it added further to my consternation to discover that Mrs Satnav wanted me to head off in another direction altogether. 

With my lingering doubts compounded in this way, I decided to ignore the advice she was giving me, and so I headed off on the route I had originally envisaged, which was down the Strand and across Waterloo Bridge.  That, and the next bit were absolutely fine - until suddenly I was confronted by a very complicated junction, with a host of different route options, none of which I recognised as immediately relevant to where I was headed - and such is my ignorance of the geography of that bit of south London, that I had no idea whether I should be heading towards Brixton, or Clapham, or West Norwood, or Bromley.  I didn't have a clue.

Fortunately, Mrs Satnav had been keeping up.  The particular model that I have at the moment is very good, because if ever I depart from her prescribed route, she simply readjusts to take account of where I am heading, and does so silently and without comment.  Unlike my previous Satnav, who used to make her feelings felt, somewhat witheringly, by saying, with just the merest hint of exasperation: 'Recalculating!'.

The rest of my journey certainly had its stressful moments, particularly when you remember that I was still not entirely certain that I was even heading towards the correct destination.  The rush hour traffic was awful; I was forever discovering that I was suddenly in the wrong lane in very busy and impatient traffic; and I was the victim of some lamentably appalling driving by a London bus driver, who illegally blocked my exit at a busy junction, leaving me stranded the wrong side of a set of traffic lights.  Although, oddly enough, my drive there was also punctuated by occasional moments of grace, when, against all the odds, a motorist would behave with unexpected courtesy and helpfulness.

Eventually, somewhat against the odds, I made it to my destination, and I did so in good time.  And, by the way, when I arrived, I suddenly discovered the reason for the postcode mix-up: the garage was in fact built on the junction of two roads, which happened to be in two different postal districts, hence the confusion.  Even though they didn't match each other, either the address or the postcode that were coming up, would have got me there successfully.

Now, you may well be wondering why on earth am I telling you this lengthy story this morning on Pentecost Sunday.  The reason is that, as I was sitting in those endless traffic queues en route to Wimbledon, I found myself reflecting with some amusement on the fact that what I was experiencing, particularly my mixed feelings about the reliability of satnav - and my occasional moments of panic and desperation - was a bit like the journey of faith in microcosm.

Because it is so interesting how, regardless of how often we may have experienced the love and grace of God in the past, and however many times we have discovered that God knows our needs better than we know them ourselves - whenever we are facing uncertainty of any significant kind, all kinds of doubts can suddenly come flooding in: is God really to be trusted?  Is God really there for us?  Can we really risk suspending our fears, and following him, particularly when to do so goes against our better judgment?   After all, is it not safer simply to stick to what we think we know (just as I did, when choosing to set off on my own preferred route to Wimbledon)?

God gives us the freedom to respond in whatever way we choose, but is always there with us, silently accompanying us - and when the moment comes when we find ourselves totally stuck - he is there, and gently points us back to where we should be going.  Having recalculated.

Now my apologies if this analogy risks sounding rather trite  - I must confess that it is the kind of sermon illustration that I tend to react against myself (the 'life is rather like a tin of sardines - we are all of us looking for the key' kind of preaching) - but for me at least it really did ring true.  Indeed, on my drive home (which was a whole lot easier and less stressful than my journey there), I discovered that a verse of a well-known hymn was rattling around in my subconscious.  The hymn was Amazing Grace, and the words were these:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
'tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the wonder of God's full revelation of himself to us in the three persons of the Trinity: the God whom we know as Father, who created us by his love; the God we know as his Son, Jesus, who lived among us as one of us; who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  And God the Holy Spirit, whom we commemorate today on this Feast of Pentecost: the God who is with us always: who comforts us in our distress, and disturbs us in our complacency; the Spirit of Truth, who is there to guide us into all truth.

In the words of today's Collect, the special prayer for today:

O God, who as at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. 

Amen.

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